Sunday, May 13, 2012

Some brief notes on a recent controversy

After saying my initial piece on this, I resolved to remain mostly silent on it in public. In private, too, for that matter.

One venue in which I didn't have the luxury of silence was on the board of the Center for a Stateless Society, which, after much discussion, arrived at its organizational response (which you can read here).

That discussion's penultimate result was my resignation from the board, not because I disagree with that response (although I do in some particulars), nor by way of dissociation from C4SS itself (I gave up my vote -- but not my voice -- in the Center's governance, not my day-to-day work with the Center), but because we were at an impasse which only that would resolve.

C4SS's board operates on something close to a "consensus" approach. I was unwilling to endorse the course of action which all other board members seemed to be coalescing around, and most of those other members had one or more irresolvable problems with the course I proposed. This would have continued until minds were changed, and that just wasn't going to happen. By resigning from the board, I stopped being a roadblock to the unanimity they required to do anything.

Why bring this up? Well, I've heard that it's already been mentioned on at least one Internet radio show. If the rumor mill vomits up something that doesn't match the account above, it's inaccurate.

As to other facets of the issue (some of them covered in civil tone in two blog posts by Claire Wolfe, here and here, and a little less civilly in comments on those posts), I may write a long piece on them in C4SS's "mutual association" area, but I'll throw out a couple of clarifications/correctives here:

  • If Ms. Litz had been part of a clandestine or military revolutionary organization, or was being judged not on "movement credentials" but solely in the context of black/gray market considerations, I'd have no theoretical problem with a resolution along the lines of "... and they never did find the body." Neither context applies here.
  • I agree that much of Ms. Litz's post-revelation rhetoric has been self-serving and indicative of a desire to shift at least some responsibility onto shoulders where it doesn't belong. That may make her less easy to sympathize or empathize with, but it doesn't change the basic factual landscape (she was abducted; she was threatened; she broke under coercion; she's admitted it).
  • Double, triple, maybe even quadruple standards are at work in various takes on the matter. Most of us break under far less immediate and onerous state coercion in various ways, every day; Ms. Litz's own actions are treated as different not just in degree, but in kind, even though the gun was closer to her head and had a larger bullet chambered. At least one voice loudly condemning Ms. Litz immediately turns right around and commends the informant who snitched on her because that informant has since gone through alcohol rehab and is a "different person" now. And while I'm not normally known for smelling sexism in every word or action, I note that a number of males who took their sweet time about revealing what they knew, and continue to defend each other, felt the urge to throw a bunch of "evil little woman" innuendo into the mix when it came time to attack her.
  • Contra those who seem to think otherwise, I have not suggested that Ms. Litz immediately (or for that matter, ever) be returned to a place in the movement in which trust regarding confidential information is a factor. I understand not trusting her now. I understand not expecting to trust her in the future. If I wanted to buy drugs the government didn't approve of, she wouldn't be on my list of people to talk to. If I wanted to form a clandestine revolutionary organization, I wouldn't recruit her to it.
  • BUT! For me, it comes down to a few key questions. Do we, the movement, decide who's with us, or do we let the state decide that for us? The latter is a bad idea, because they can break almost anyone. Do we signal to activists that if they ever break under coercion, it's better to stay broken and rat out as many as they can (and to keep it secret as long as possible), because all coming clean will get them is condemnation and cold shoulders? That's a bad idea too. We should fight to keep control of our own movement rather than allowing the state to act as our HR department. And we should do our best to bring those who break under coercion back into the movement -- albeit in less trusted roles for obvious reasons -- rather than accept this kind of attrition.
Finally, something to think about:

Ms. Litz -- and, from what I can tell by reading other accounts, not only Ms. Litz -- made the mistake of assuming that it's possible to do three things at the same time: Climb the bourgeois upward mobility ladder (go to college, get a law degree, open a practice, buy that nice brownstone, etc.), and engage in black/gray market activities on a larger than trivial scale, and play key roles in the freedom movement.

Ms. Litz is living proof of the flaws in that assumption. Try to do all three things, and it's likely you'll end up not being able to do any of those things. Ms. Litz is still trying to find a way to do the first and the last, having been caught in and blackmailed over the middle; I doubt she'll succeed.

There are some respects in which living in a society which has progressed further toward real totalitarianism is actually ... liberating. If you're Orwell's Winston Smith in fictional Oceania, you already know you are the dead. If you're Nechayev in tsarist Russia, it makes sense that:

A revolutionary is a doomed man. He has no private interests, no affairs, sentiments, ties, property nor even a name of his own. His entire being is devoured by one purpose, one thought, one passion -- the revolution. Heart and soul, not merely by word but by deed, he has severed every link with the social order and with the entire civilized world; with the laws, good manners, conventions, and morality of that world. He is its merciless enemy and continues to inhabit it with only one purpose -- to destroy it.

The society we live in at the moment pretends not to pose that conflict -- having to choose between being a revolutionary or having a "normal" life in many respects. Ms. Litz's situation proves that that freedom is at least partially an illusion, subject to state suppression at any moment.

Of the things I find offensive in this whole matter, probably the ugliest is that some have presumed to judge Ms. Litz on Nechayev's criteria while continuing to indulge that illusion for themselves.

And that's all I have to say at the moment. More than I intended to, actually.

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